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Couturier still waiting on call

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- Philadelphia Flyers rookie Sean Couturier has come home to play his first game in his native Quebec, and he's hoping it won't be his final NHL game of the season.

Couturier will play his ninth game tonight (7 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS), against the Montreal Canadiens, which means his next one will trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.

But Couturier insists that decision is the problem of Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren, and not his.

"I'm still waiting to hear," said Couturier, the eighth pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. "I'm trying to look at it one game at a time, one day at a time, and we'll see what happens."

With the Flyers' next game coming tomorrow at home to the Winnipeg Jets, Holmgren will have to make his decision sometime between the end of the game against the Canadiens and puck drop the next night.

"I don't think they'll base their decision on one game," Couturier said when asked if he felt added pressure because of the circumstances. "I don't know, we'll see what happens."

Coach Peter Laviolette would not shed any light on what Holmgren may be thinking, but there's no denying Couturier quickly has become an important cog on his team. He plays on the top penalty-kill unit with Maxime Talbot and has become a go-to player defensively.

"He's done a good job," Laviolette said. "He came in touted as a smart player defensively, and he's been as good in the defensive zone as he's been in the offensive zone. We put him in situations early on, 5-on-4, 5-on-3, out against other team's top players back in training camp to see how he'd respond, and he's done everything we've asked him to do and he's done it well. Regular season, we've just continued on with that. He's been a nice addition."

Talbot said Couturier reminds him of another 18-year-old high draft pick he played with who made the jump to the NHL right out of junior hockey by excelling in a defensive role.

"Sean Couturier makes me think of Jordan Staal when he arrived with the Penguins," Talbot said. "He's very mature defensively and in his understanding of the game. I think that's the biggest adjustment when you make the jump from junior to the NHL, to understand the game and be smart. He has those qualities."

Couturier is showing improvement in one area where a junior-age player tends to struggle, and that's in the faceoff circle. It's an important skill for a penalty killer to have, and he's clearly getting the hang of it. Through his first five games, Couturier was winning just 34.6 percent of his draws; however, over his past three games, he's won 50 per cent of his faceoffs.

"It's really hard," Couturier said of that particular skill. "My first games I was in the 30s, but you learn to know the players and how strong they are and you learn some tricks the more you play."

Couturier not only will have friends and family in the Bell Centre stands tonight, but his coach with the Drummondvile Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dominic Ricard, will be watching his star player perform.

The two haven't spoken since Couturier's adventure with the Flyers began.

"I think he's happy for me and proud of the Voltigeurs organization," Couturier said. "Their goal is to develop players and coaches. In the past few years I'd say they’ve done a good job."

So good, Couturier is hoping, that the Voltigeurs will have to add another name to their NHL alumni list as soon as Thursday afternoon.
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